Monday, January 28, 2008

"Homeschooling" Preschool

I've talked a bit in a previous post about homeschooling during the preschool years. Yesterday's Opinion section of the Buffalo News had a wonderful editorial by Beth Kontrabecki Walters, who has decided to buck public opinion and "homeschool" her 2-year-old. What she means is exactly what mothers used to do all the time - she's staying at home with her little boy and giving him a normal life. And the way she's responding to the criticism of well-meaning busybodies is excellent.

Here's an example:

When I hear about socializing my child, I can’t get out of my head the image of my German shepherd. A dog needs socializing.

Truthfully, I’m not terribly concerned about my son harassing the mailman and neighborhood children who walk past the house.

For generations, mine included, we somehow managed to grow into perfectly happy and functional adults; no socialization with scores of other children necessary. You either had your siblings, your cousins or the kid down the street.

I'm afraid I don't quite agree that a preschooler doesn't need socialization. But what kind of socialization does a toddler learn by being removed from his home (usually against his will) and placed in a room with a bunch of other toddlers? (It can't be good!) The socialization a preschooler needs is best provided by parents, by siblings, and by occasional interactions with other kids (at the park, at church, or at a birthday party) - "Be polite," "Be kind," "Share," "Make friends," "Treat others the way you want them to treat you." Most socialization is learned by modeling. Children watch how people around them interact with others, and they imitate what they see, observing how others respond to that imitation and modifying their behavior based on that feedback. So who provides a better model, the child's parents or their peers? And who can provide more appropriate feedback to the child's sometimes-clumsy attempts to mimic the examples around them - a parent, a teacher, or another child? It seems to me the answer is obvious - the parent is both the best source of modeling for the child and the best able to provide instant, appropriate feedback when the child tries a new social behavior.

Here's another example:

Then there’s the issue of activities. Because I choose not to be a member of any "mommy" group and do not send my son to a facility, it can only be concluded that we sit in a dark, quiet house all day staring at the walls. While this may be hard to believe, one can do the exact same activities as performed in preschool, thereby still gleaning the benefits of a preschool education, in the comfort of one’s own abode.

In my opinion, this is a very wise mother. It's frustrating to realize what poor reasons are being offered for why kids "need" to go to preschool! I've already mentioned this before, so I'll try not to get into a lot of detail now. But preschools spend hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars trying to imitate experiences children can have for free at home. Almost every preschool, for example, has little model kitchens so they can pretend to cook and bake; why not just let them stay at home and help Mom cook and bake for real? Teachers spend hours pasting pictures of fruit and vegetables on a bulletin board - isn't it better to take the child to the grocery store and let them actually see, smell, and handle the real thing (and maybe even taste some if Mom buys it and takes it home)? Preschools organize formal "learning experiences" pouring water from a pitcher into a cup, instead of letting kids in on the joy of pouring their own juice into their own little cups (even if they spill a bit). Toy phones are used to teach telephone manners, rather than let the child listen in on Mom's phone conversations and maybe even try it for themselves. In so many ways, preschool experiences are cheap imitations of what the home can easily do for real. Not only that, in the home, these experiences happen much more spontaneously, usually without interrupting the consistent schedules for naps, meals, and outdoor time these little people so desperately need.

Here's this mother's conclusion:

Generations of mothers before me were the sole educators in the lives of their children, teaching them not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but also how to get along in this world. In fact, some of their nonpreschooled progeny went on to make enormous contributions to history. I doubt Thomas Edison attended pre-K.

In the not-so-distant future, I will watch my son board the bus to kindergarten, unable to shield him from dirty words and bad habits, and my home schooling days will be a faint memory. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy these precious years to the fullest.

In fact, Thomas Edison not only didn't attend pre-K, but he got pretty much all his education through homeschooling! And so did Albert Einstein; Alexander Graham Bell; Orville and Wilbur Wright; Claude Monet; Leonardo da Vinci; ten American presidents including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt; George Washington Carver; Pierre Curie; Winston Churchill; Benjamin Franklin; Patrick Henry; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Charles Dickens; Mark Twain; C.S. Lewis; and dozens more. None of these people attended preschool - most of them didn't attend much school at all - and look how they turned out!

So, maybe Ms. Walters will put her son on the bus, and maybe she won't. :) After all these years of bucking public opinion and "homeschooling" her preschooler, maybe she will discover that there are similar advantages to homeschooling for elementary school (and for middle school, and for high school . . . !).

Whether she homeschools long-term or not, though, it's my opinion that she'll never regret the decision to keep her son at home during his preschool years. Children are not born in packs like puppies; they generally come one or two at a time because it's best for them to have the full care and attention of their parents, at least for a few years. Preschool deprives these little guys of the loving care, the routines, and the participation in real life they so desperately need and want during these early years. Good for you, Ms. Walters, and all the other moms like you who go against prevailing opinion and give your little children what they need most - you!


Shawna said...

As I stated before, I really dislike the concept of "homeschooling for preschoolers" for all the reasons you stated. To me, a child of that age at home is simply being, and by virtue of being s/he is growing and learning and developing... as you so eloquently pointed out.

However, Einstein was not homeschooled. We are currently reading a great biography on him and I also thought he was homeschooled and have learned otherwise.:

Albert attended a Catholic elementary school. Although Albert had early speech difficulties, he was a top student in elementary school.

In his early teens, Albert attended the new and progressive Luitpold Gymnasium. His father intended for him to pursue electrical engineering, but Albert clashed with authorities and resented the school regimen. He later wrote that the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

Albert had been left behind in Munich (when the family moved) to finish high school, but in the spring of 1895, he withdrew to join his family in Pavia, convincing the school to let him go by using a doctor's note.

Rather than completing high school, Albert decided to apply directly to the ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. Without a school certificate, he was required to take an entrance examination, which he did not pass, although he got exceptional marks in mathematics and physics.

The Einsteins sent Albert to Aarau, Switzerland to finish secondary school.

In 1896, he graduated at age 17, renounced his German citizenship to avoid military service (with his father's approval), and finally enrolled in the mathematics program at ETH. Einstein graduated in 1900 from ETH with a degree in physics.


And another source sums it nicely:

Albert Einstein was born at Ulm, in W├╝rttemberg, Germany, on March 14, 1879. Six weeks later the family moved to Munich, where he later on began his schooling at the Luitpold Gymnasium. Later, they moved to Italy and Albert continued his education at Aarau, Switzerland and in 1896 he entered the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich to be trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics. In 1901, the year he gained his diploma, he acquired Swiss citizenship and, as he was unable to find a teaching post, he accepted a position as technical assistant in the Swiss Patent Office. In 1905 he obtained his doctor's degree.


On a personal note, I am sure there was some form of home education that took place during all of that public and private schooling as school calendars were very different and there were stretches of time at home.

Great post!

Marcy Muser said...


Thanks for the really fascinating info on Einstein - I had no idea! I wonder, since he was German, whether he actually attended kindergarten? (In my opinion, kindergarten is just a slightly more advanced preschool, and is equally unnecessary, though I realize many Americans disagree.)

As for homeschooling preschool, I feel the same, and I think the author of the article would too. Oooh - just realized I forgot to link it! I'll have to go back and do that!